I was actually kind of disappointed that the Mayan Apocalypse wasn’t a bigger deal. Not in the sense of actually being an apocalypse, but I was at least expecting a bunch of ironic doomsday parties or something. I guess the fact that everyone ignored it says something positive about society, although I’d be more encouraged if we hadn’t spent the time freaking out over the fiscal cliff fiasco instead.
Anyway, now that the year’s just about over, it occurred to me that I should have some sort of profound thought to close it out. Unfortunately, my brain kept coming back to the Mayans, so I guess I’ll run with that.
So, the Mayans had a calendar that measures time in cycles, much like every other calendar does, but since the Mayans also built pyramids, they must have had some kind of supernatural precognitive abilities, because that’s just how it goes. And that leds us to the obvious conclusion that the end of the Mayan calendar cycle would have to coincide with the end of everything else.
I first learned about this in middle school — literally, in school. It was sixth or seventh grade, so this would be the mid-’90s, and my class was shown a documentary about the ancient Maya that mostly talked about how mysterious they were. For instance, they had a calendar that was so precise that it predicted the exact date of the end of the world.
My entire class laughed at that, but it wasn’t because we’d just been told that the Maya knew exactly when the world was going to end — because what ancient civilization didn’t, I guess. No, it was after the dramatic pause, when the narrator said it was “December 21st…2012.”
Apparently, that date was just far enough away to be funny. It was close enough that we figured we’d all still be around to see it, but at the same time, that was like 14 years away, and we’d barely been alive for that long.
Which, of course, made it the perfect kind of apocalypse. Nobody cares about a prophecy that the world’s going to end in 2147, because, you know, if we’re still here in 2146, we can worry about it then. 2012, though, 2012 we could work with.
For all that, though, December 21 wasn’t that big a deal. I guess the whole thing kind of jumped the shark with that movie — which didn’t even have the decency to have the world end on December 21; that really sucked all the drama out of the story. But apart from that, what I think happened is that the prophecy — because it wasn’t a prophecy — never actually said what was going to happen. I mean, the Book of Revelations left us a nice, step-by-step timeline, and just left out all the dates, which is why we’ve had people spend the last 2,000 years going, “Any day now!” But if all you’ve got is the date and no idea of what’s supposed to happen, what are you supposed to do with that.
One final thing about the Mayan calendar. They had one with 18 months to a year, lasted 20 days each, and then a five-day period that existed outside any month. And apparently those five days were considered unlucky, known as Days Without Names, or more ominously, Days Without Souls. Which seems to me like a branding failure: I would have said that you get five days a year that are outside of time. No idea what that would mean, exactly, but come on — there’s got to be possibilities.